Oddfellows is an unusual venue. Part pub, part club, part restaurant, part hotel, it makes a game of revealing and concealing allusive hints of itself. Its website and PR are maddening masterpieces of coy uninformation. We glean what we can from extravagant words. In the garden, 'spirits soar'. The bar 'gets into your soul'. The intention may be to set our imaginations running, but at the same time it can be a little disturbing.
Actually, it makes me nervous. I like to be in control. I'm not so keen on 'skimming through the skies over bedouin tents' (though, to be fair, I do quite like the sound of 'devilish cocktails, expertly concocted to reflect your mood'). But if they can do all that, surely it's not such a great leap for them to figure out a way to 'siphon all the currency from your dusty wallet'. Fantasy rarely comes cheap. And this was the seat of my anxiety.
Ill-founded as it turned out. Let me say right now that a pint of bitter costs £2.75. That's quite a long way north of what you pay in the Falcon, a couple of doors away, but it's not the most expensive in town. So with this potential cloud failing to appear on the horizon, I relaxed. Indeed, the fact that you could buy a pint of draught bitter at all made me feel more grounded, at home. In what they call the Champagne Bar.
This bar is a dark, high-ceilinged room with oversized lamps, useful leaners and what seemed like the reredos from a rather grand church behind the bar. Champagnes and fine brandies are prominently displayed, but more humdrum beverages are readily available. The discovery of the unmarked hand pump was a pleasing surprise, but having found it, it was no surprise that it pulled a very decent pint of Flowers IPA (an odd choice, perhaps, but credit where it's due).
Passing by the brasserie and out to the garden, you get a feel for the effort that has gone into Oddfellows. The tiled blue fishpond, the aforementioned bedouin tents, the monumental glass and sandstone structure. Waiting staff passing to and fro in smart striped shirts and dark aprons. Here, as elsewhere, the attention to detail is amazing. It is a pleasant space. Even on a chilly May evening, the patio heaters kept a crowd of drinkers at ease under the big canopy. Smokers have somewhere civilised to play.
This review looks at Oddfellows as a bar. Another will consider the Brasserie. So we look to the Coach House, Bollicini and The Living Room for competition. Compared to these, Oddfellows feels more like a club - less public, more enabling. It gives us the feeling that it will do things for us. It makes us feel a kinship with our fellow drinkers. So even though the fact is that this is - amongst other things - a club, it's clubness is so hidden that we are unaware of it. Yet, at the same time, it makes us feel as if we are members. I liked it very much.